"Retro Game Challenge"
For: Nintendo DS
From: Namco Bandai/XSEED Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone (alcohol reference,
mild fantasy violence, mild language)
By Billy O'Keefe
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
The Nintendo DS has its share of real classic game compilations, and now it can lay claim to hosting perhaps the best fake classic game compilation as well.
"Retro Game Challenge's" premise is ingenious: A grown man, frustrated by the complexity of today's games, has sent your more skilled self back in time to complete a series of challenges from his favorite childhood games.
The execution is similarly clever. The DS' bottom screen is devoted to a game room, where your childhood self sits next to your challenger's childhood self, who cheers you on and offers tips and gossip via some very funny dialogue exchanges. He also owns an ever-growing library of gaming magazines, which you can peruse freely for tips, cheat codes and previews of games you haven't yet unlocked. Between this brilliant wrinkle and the infusion of in-jokes that only a child of the Nintendo Entertainment System era will truly get, "Challenge" absolutely nails the innocent allure that came with playing video games in the 1980s.
Most importantly, though, the games themselves get it right.
"Challenge" features six original games (and two mostly identical "sequels"), including "Galaga" and "Space Megaforce"-style shooters, a trio of side-scrolling action games, two overhead racers and a shockingly fleshed-out (albeit much shorter than normal) role-playing game.
While some work better than others — and your mileage inevitably will vary based on your personal tastes — there isn't a dud in the bunch. "Challenge," for better or worse, completely understands the magic and warts that defined the 8-bit era, and that understanding translates into some surprisingly fun tributes that stand completely on their own, overlying gimmick or not.
That's particularly apparent when you play the games in free play mode, which is your reward for beating your adversary's individual challenges. It isn't always apparent during those challenges, but Namco Bandai went the extra mile and made eight complete games — high scores, multiple paths, hidden secrets and all. And because the games are brand-new experiences in spite of their nods to the past, they're good for more than just a nostalgia trip, which too often is the only thing real compilations have going for them.
"Challenge's" only major stumble: No multiplayer. Not every game would be equipped to support it, of course, but there exist some pretty obvious applications that Namco Bandai could have but did not utilize. If you want to compare high scores with friends, you'll have to take one more page from the 1980s and utilize the honor system.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.